“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
History is replete with people being treated according to their category: Muslims enslaved and executed “infidels”; the Holy Inquisition tortured and executed Jews and Conversos; England suppressed and executed Catholics, while Protestants were suppressed and executed in France; the Ottoman Empire slaughtered the Armenians to the point of genocide; the Nazi regime in Germany devoted themselves efficiently to the genocide of Jews, succeeding in murdering six million; South Africa segregated blacks; Hutus engaged in genocide against Tutsi fellow citizens, 800,000 of which were murdered; Turkey has marginalized and suppressed the Kurds, as did Saddam Hussein in Iraq with the aid of poison gas, to mention just a notorious few of the multitude of cases. There are of course categories of people in society held to be subordinate and often abused and even murdered: women throughout much of history, untouchables in South Asia, natives in lands that have been conquered, blacks in some countries with multiple races, and many others.
Treating people of members of categories is a common method of avoiding approaching people as individual, complex human beings with multiple dimensions, with hopes and fears, with intentions and goals. The reductionism of individual people to categories of gender, race, religion, caste, nationality, sexual preference, among others, simplifies their treatment as members of preferred or despised categories, which facilitates the ascendency of members of preferred categories and the degradation of members of despised categories. This reductionism of people to categories is a violation of the liberal spirit, which grants dignity to individuals, and also a violation of human rights, all of which are vested in individuals rather than categories.
Unhindered by reflection on the history of reducing people to census categories and treating them according to their category, we in the 21st century West have returned to that deceptively easy and efficient way of looking at our fellow human beings. What we today have decided is important is a person’s race, gender, sexual preference, and religion, and we sort people out accordingly.
To simplify, this is the third of three phases that we in North America have gone through. In the earlier first phase, discrimination due to race, religion, and nationality were common and approved, as seen in slavery and selective immigration, and in discrimination (in decreasing degrees) against blacks, Asians, Jews, and Catholics, among others.
The second phase was one of official rejection of discrimination. Under President F. D. Roosevelt, a committee on Fair Employment Practices was established to ensure that blacks were given access to war factory jobs. In 1961, President J. F. Kennedy’s Presidential Executive Order 10925 asserted that “discrimination because of race, creed, color, or national origin is contrary to the Constitutional principles and policies of the United States,” and furthermore that “affirmative steps which should be taken by executive departments and agencies to realize more fully the national policy of nondiscrimination within the executive branch of the Government.” Contractors hired by the Government were obliged to take measure to be non-discriminatory: “The contractor will not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, creed, color, or national origin. The contractor will take affirmative action to ensure that applicants are employed, and that employees are treated during employment, without regard to their race, creed, color, or national origin.” Note that the purpose of “affirmative action” is to guarantee that people are treated without regard to race, creed, colour, or national origin.
The evolution of the concept of “affirmative action” over the decades since 1961 introduces us to our current third phase of attitudes about race, origin, creed, and sex, in which reverse discrimination in favour of some categories of peoples has been accepted and institutionalized as desirable to compensate for past disadvantages or to promote absolute demographic equality. In other words, “affirmative action” has come to be the opposite of its original, non-discrimination meaning: programs for purposeful discrimination on the basis of race, origin, creed, and sex. This is allegedly justified by the ideology of “social justice,” in which “oppressed minorities” must be given special benefits both to compensate for past oppression, and to provide equal circumstances and status.
These measures depend upon a particular ideal of “equality”: First, equality must be imposed for categories of people, rather than individuals, which means that absolute equality of categories replaces every other value, including the value and integrity of individual persons, as well as considerations such as merit, excellence, creativity, and competence. Second, the idea of “equality of opportunity” is replaced by “equality of result,” so that any discrepancy in income or representation between categories of people must be ameliorated by social engineering so that the results for people in every category are the same.
Discrimination by category is also supported by the covering concept of “diversity.” Diversity has now become the primary value toward which policies must aim, and the criterion by which university, business, and government organizations are judged. The Prime Minister of Canada has repeatedly asserted that, in Canada’s “post-national state,” “Diversity is the strength of Canada.” Public policy in Canada, the U.S., and elsewhere in the West has been reshaped to enforce membership diversity on the basis of census categories. For example, the Canadian Minister of Science will measure applicants for the Canada Research Chairs Program at Universities according to diversity criteria, and, if the applications are not sufficiently “diverse,” funding will be blocked.
Do not imagine, however, that “diversity” in education means “diversity of opinion,” which traditionally has been thought to be a critical ingredient for education. For from it. “Diversity” for governments and universities means diversity of gender, sex, race, religion, and nationality. Both at the governmental and university level diversity of opinion is rejected. The only acceptable goal now in Canada is people of many races, languages, and cultures all saying the same, politically correct things.
According to “social justice” advocates, for sports teams, or universities, or boards of directors which have a membership in which one or another category of oppressed is under-represented in relation to the larger population, “affirmative action” must be taken to increase their representation. Thus programs of admission, hiring, and appointment are aimed at bringing in the under-represented demographic. Other criteria–merit, achievement, excellence, capability, character–are dismissed as “excuses” made by oppressors to monopolize positions.
Let us begin illustrating these “social justice” measures with the example of McGill University, which states “Equity and inclusiveness are among McGill University’s core principles, and McGill is committed to the view that striving for diverse representation within our Canada Research Chair appointments, as well as our broader academic and research communities, is a matter of fairness that furthers excellence and the advancement of our academic mission.” The claim that “diversity” “furthers excellence and … our academic mission” is often made in “inclusiveness” statements, although no evidence is ever adduced to support it. Rather, it is cover for the switch in priorities from academic merit to “diversity.” One earlier McGill committee argued that diversity is excellence. Academic criteria are overridden by “social justice” criteria.
For McGill and other universities, these policies must be put into action and must show results. “McGill’s Employment Equity Policy…requires that search committees [for appointing professors] use corrective measures in hiring in order to address gaps in the representation of designated equity groups. One important corrective measure calls for evaluating candidates by equivalency class rather than by individual ranking….”
Specifically, McGill will “initiate a cluster hire led by the Provost and Vice-Principal (Academic) that seeks, over the next three years, to hire 10 new faculty members in the tenure stream who have lived experience and expertise in Indigenous knowledges, epistemologies, methodologies, histories, traditions, languages, or systems of laws and governance…[allocating] three Canada Research Chairs (CRCs) in the areas of Indigenous Sustainability Sciences, Indigenous Health Sciences and Indigenous Humanities.” In other words, McGill is determined to hire on racial bases. McGill has also established a permanent Office of First Nations and Inuit Education.
McGill’s Department of Anthropology, of which I am a member, appears determined to hire indigenous individuals on a racial basis, as its Graduate Student Association lobbied for. Anthropology, as is the case with most social sciences and humanities, follows the dominant theoretical paradigm, the “postcolonial” version of marxism-leninism. Thus, going beyond the more anodyne “diversity and inclusion,” postcolonialist academics see admitting and hiring members of First Nations as “decolonialization.” Universities become a tool of this political project. Gone are the days when the primary goal of universities was education.
McGill’s policies are exemplary, not in the sense that they are in the forefront, but in the sense that they are typical of Canadian universities. Dalhousie University is advertising for Vice-Provost for Student Affairs, an important administrative position. However, Dalhousie will consider only candidates who fall into the categories of “racially visible persons and Aboriginal peoples.” The Assistant Vice-President of Human Resources says that “this is the way for us to develop the most meritorious faculty and staff population.” Apparently the Assistant Vice-President of Human Resources believes that merit comes with skin colour and racial origin.
In my view, the greatest objection to the current program of “social justice, diversity and inclusion” is that it discriminates in favour of individuals in preferred “victim” categories, and discriminates against individuals in despised “privileged” or “oppressor” categories. The opportunity cost of “justice” for some is injustice for others. Most people would like to be treated fairly. Traditionally, in the West, “fairness” was adherence to universalistic standards: If you could run faster and hit farther, you got on the team. If your grades were higher, you were admitted to university. If you were more motivated and better prepared, you got the job.
No clearer example could be found of the unfairness of “affirmative action” racial discrimination than the treatment by universities of those of Asian ancestry. Ironically, Asians have always been victims of prejudice and discrimination in North America, and should be among the favoured categories for “social justice” advocates. But in recent decades, Asians made the great mistake, through talent and diligence, of becoming successful academically and in business and professions. They are no longer worthy victim clients of “social justice.” So they, along with the despised males, whites, and Christians, must be discriminated against.
The U.S. Department of Justice is currently investigating a complaint brought by 64 Asian-American organizations about discrimination against Asian-Americans by Ivy League Universities. According to an editorial in the National Review, “The de facto discrimination against Asian and Asian-American students is spectacular, undeniable, and shameful. They are in effect subjected to the same quota system that the Ivy League [and McGill University] once used to keep down its Jewish population — the “bamboo ceiling,” some call it. Asian-American groups pursuing litigation against these policies have demonstrated that students of Asian background on average have to score 140 points above white students to have similar chances of college admission — and 270 points higher than Hispanic students, and 450 points higher than black students. The ‘Asian penalty’ is especially heavy in places such as California’s prestigious state universities.” (Brackets added) For some, this may be “social justice,” but, to my mind, this is deeply unjust.
As regards teaching, as I have pointed out elsewhere, “In today’s colleges and universities, ‘progressive stacking’ is recommended as a constructive way to deal with diversity among students. The professor sorts out students according to category, using intersectional criteria of suffering and victimhood. In this ‘social justice’ vision, black women are the most oppressed, then white women, then black men, then finally the privileged white males. The professor then favours the most oppressed, calling first on black women to answer questions, then white women, then black men, while ignoring white men. In this way, each professor does her part in correcting the world’s injustice.”
“Social justice” advocates, whether university students, professors, or administrators, will argue that this is the “good, new racism.” Can we accept that injustice for individuals and racial apartheid is progress? Treating people according to racial, gender, sex, religious categories has never worked out well. The moral way to treat people is as individuals.